Reversing the Race to Oblivion

Over forty years ago, Herbert York, the first Director of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, published a book, Race to Oblivion: A Participant’s View of the Arms Race. Unfortunately, its basic conclusions are as applicable today as in 1970. Most critically, York observes that our obsession with technology, coupled with an open bar tab for weapons systems has led to the absurd situation “that ever since World War II the military power of the United States has been steadily increasing, while at the same time our national security has been rapidly and inexorably decreasing.” Other key observations include:

  • The errors in judgment that have brought us to “a situation [that] must be called the ultimate absurdity … [are] very largely patriotic zeal, exaggerated prudence, and a sort of religious faith in technology … [not] malice, greed, and lust for power.”
  • The problem is “exaggerated by a widely held myth: that technical experts – generals, scientists, strategic analysts – have some special knowledge making it possible for them, and only them, to arrive at sound political judgments about the arms race.”
  • “Just as our unilateral actions were in large part responsible for the current dangerous state of affairs, we must expect that unilateral moves on our part will be necessary if we are ever to get the whole process reversed.”
  • “If we are to avoid oblivion, if we are to reject the ultimate absurdity, then all of us, not just the current ‘in’ group of experts and technicians, must involve ourselves in creating the policies and making the decisions necessary to do so.”

Martin Hellman


York’s entire book is available online, free of charge. All of the above conclusions are in Chapter 12, which can be read all by itself to good effect.

My web site, Defusing the Nuclear Threat, provides an updated view of some of these same issues.

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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1 Response to Reversing the Race to Oblivion

  1. Russ Wellen says:

    Thanks for unearthing that, Marty. That much more frightening coming from a Livermore lab director. As I posted to Terralist, it was cool to come across you in Ron Rosenbaum’s “How the End Begins.”

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